If you were to blindfold me and bring me into the New England Dessert Showcase in Boston, I’d immediately know that something was up. A wall of sugar assaults you when you walk into the room and everywhere you look is chocolate, caramel, frosting, and all manner of deliciousness. If you’re going to come, come hungry. This annual event highlights a wide range of local vendors and is both a great way to get a sugar fix, and a chance to see what’s trendy in the world of dessert. This year, the trend seemed to be spicy chocolates and candies.
Here are some of my favorite exhibitors from the 2012 New England Dessert Showcase:
These are McCrea’s Candies. If you like caramels, you will love, love, love these. They are packed with flavor. The Black Lava Sea Salt is my favorite so far because we all know how nicely caramel pairs with sea salt. The Ginger Fusion is very spicy. You have to really like ginger, but if you do, you’re in for a treat. I didn’t try the Dark Roasted Mocha because I don’t coffee, but I believe these are new. And I wanted to try the Tapped Maple Caramels, which they weren’t sampling, so I bought a pack. Yum. You can find these in Roche Bros. grocery stores and other places around New England. To be honest, I kind of want to hang out with Jason McCrea, whose bio describes him multiple times as "quirky." Plus, he makes caramel for a living…
This adorable little baby carriage is just one of the many cookie cake toppers you can get from Baker’s Bloom. She does cookies, toppers, and little cookie cupcake picks. Now, first of all, the cookies are delicious (not like some decorated sugar cookies) and made with some very high quality ingredients. You can even request natural food colorings. Second, she does some of the most intricate cookie frosting I’ve ever seen. You’ll have to visit the Baker’s Bloom site to see it for yourself. And third, she has a nut-free bakery! It is very difficult to get cute cookies like this that are safe for kids with nut allergies, so this is amazing. She doesn’t have a storefront, so you’ll have to order form her online. Make sure you browse through all of her photos… my favorites are the elephants that were for an Indian wedding, the floral bridesmaids dress, and the sweetest little owls in the Kids’ section.
Chocolate Therapy may just get the award for the best booth. I mean, I love the color palette, and that all of the staff were dressed in scrubs. Cute, right? But most important, the chocolate is delicious. It’s all part of their mission to highlight the health benefits of dark chocolate by using it in innovative (and sometimes healthier) combos. They were sampling the Gen Mai Cha at the showcase, which has green tea, brown rice, and lime leaf in a white chocolate center with a dark chocolate shell. I went for "The Cure" which has cinnamon, bay leaf, and cayenne pepper. It’s not as scary as it sounds… it just leaves you with a tingling in the back of your throat. I see they have one infused with olive oil that I didn’t get to sample, so I’ll obviously need to make a visit to their shop at Legacy Place in Dedham. You can also order their chocolates online.
You may be surprised, as I was, to see olive oil in with all of the cookies and snacks. But you’ll find no complaint here, as the Fam olive oil samples at the EvooLove table were amazing. I could have chatted all day with Carmine Manganelli as he told us of the origins of each of the oils and how they achieve the remarkable flavors in the flavored variations. I honestly had no idea that tasting olive oil was a bit like sampling wine. Each one is different based on the region it comes from and the olives used in production. They also had some infused oils and I fell in love with a lemon-flavored oil made from the fruit of the Amalfi coast. EvooLove also bottles balsamic vinegars and distributes Italian-made pastas and sweets. The home page of their site includes a video on how they make their oil and they invite you to make an appointment to visit if you’re ever in the Italian village of Venticano. I most definitely will!
One of the best things about the New England Dessert Showcase is that many of the exhibitors are just people with a dream and a passion. While some of the larger bakeries are there as well, it’s the smaller places that I enjoy connecting with and I think their food tastes better, too. One of those exhibitors was Laura Bowman of Cookie Lady Treats. I don’t have a picture (I was far too busy nibbling on one of her lemon cookies), but Laura makes 38 flavors of cookies standard, and is willing to create custom combinations, as well as options that are low fat, low sugar, and vegan. Her bakery isn’t nut-free, and she uses a lot of nut products in her cookies, but if that’s not a concern you should definitely pay her a visit. Her cookies are soft and chewy with just a hint of crunchy crust, just the way a cookie should be. I bought her "Everything" cookies for my husband to enjoy when the kids aren’t around. It’s a peanut butter cookie with pretzels, caramel, and three types of chocolate chips (bittersweet, milk, and white). He’s pretty fond of them to say the least! Depending on the season, you may also find her with Strawberry Daiquiri, Dreamsicle, Caramel Apple, Chipotle Chocolate, or Blueberries and Cream cookies. You can find Laura at a number of farmer’s markets in the area, but you can also purchase online.
I also want to mention two non-profit groups that were present at the Dessert Showcase. Community Work Services, whose brownies you can see above, helps men and women find work through training, placement, and support services. One of the businesses they run and staff with clients is a food services and catering program. The other, which has a similar mission, was Haley House. They focus on their cafe and catering business as a way to provide relevant work skills to their clients. If the pumpkin cake was any indication, they have some truly talents folks on their roster!
The New England Dessert Showcase takes place once a year. You can purchase tickets to attend and sample from all of the many vendors, such as Konditor Meister (pictured above). This year, the mix included chocolates, waffles, whoopie pies, ice cream and sorbet, rum cake, mousse, and energy bars. It was surprisingly low on cupcake samples, which was interesting since they were really hot two years ago. In any case, if you love desserts, this is the spot for you. Come early for your timeslot, though, because there is often a long line to get in and it can get crowded. Also, some of the vendors will be selling goods in addition to providing samples. Bring cash, just in case, because it’s very easy to fall in love!
Disclosure: I received media passes for the purpose of covering the event. There was no additional compensation and any opinions contained in this post are my own.